Friday afternoon at the Holiday Inn on the outskirts of Winchester.
Nestled at the foot of the South Downs National Park, this 131-room hotel would normally be buzzing with visitors checking in for a weekend stay on the south coast.
But not today. Instead, the four-star hotel, which last year completed a £2.5 million refurbishment, has been taken over as a Covid vaccination clinic.
The Winchester Rural North and East Primary Care Network is part of the biggest vaccination programmes rolled out in NHS history. And there to help are a group of orange bib-wearing volunteers from Winchester Rotary.
With the vaccination programme expected to spread well into the summer, we are preparing for the long haul.
We have been meticulously organised with a seven-day rota of two-hour shifts by Bruce Royston-Smith.
The paperwork beforehand was pretty minimal – a terms of reference, risk assessment, and a volunteer agreement.
It is the complete opposite in Portsmouth where I am volunteering with Rotarians for the Solent NHS Trust, who require a Disclosure & Barring Service check, two references, plus three forms of ID and a photograph for a pass.
All a minor inconvenience.
Our volunteering commitment to the Covid clinics is being mirrored by hundreds of Rotary clubs across Great Britain and Ireland. This is Rotary in action. We are people of action.
It is minus one Celsius outside with an Arctic-like breeze blowing off the Downs. But because of the spacious hotel car park, no volunteers are needed for parking duty today.
Instead, our tidy team are inside the warm hotel, positioned at various strategic points from reception to the vaccination room and the exit, where I am located.
Our volunteering commitment to the Covid clinics is being mirrored by hundreds of Rotary clubs across Great Britain and Ireland. This is Rotary in action. We are people of action.”
In front of me are six vaccination stations. Each one is manned – or womanned – by a team of two; one typing in details into a laptop, and a second person administering the vaccine.
Patients are asked to sit down for up to 15 minutes before driving home, just in case of any reaction.
The health centre manager has asked us to warn staff if we spot anyone looking a bit peaky after their vaccination.
Once the quarter of an hour is up, they are guided to the car park, and we wipe down the previously-occupied chairs.
I have never cleaned so many chairs in two hours – and don’t talk to me about my wrinkly hands!
The organisation is like clockwork.
The medical team at the Holiday Inn are carrying out around 1,000 vaccinations a day. It’s a similar story of vaccination volume at St James’ Hospital in Portsmouth, where I have been on front gate duty checking visitors’ credentials – and turning away a few chancers who have tried to sneak a dose of vaccine!
The medical team at the Holiday Inn are carrying out around 1,000 vaccinations a day.”
At Winchester, newly-arrived patients report to reception at their appointed time, and are then ushered through for their jab.
“It’s wonderful,” says one lady, as I showed her to a chair. “I was expecting there to be queues outside, but it has been marvellous. Everyone has been so kind.”
Another gentleman, who had begrudgingly made a 15-mile drive from his rural home, was glad it was all over.
“I wasn’t sure about coming, but we got it done,” he says. “Give the nurses their due, they are doing an excellent job.”
Generally, the mood is upbeat. I am chatting to the patients about the weather, football and roadworks on the M27.
For a few, it’s the first time they have managed to get out for weeks to enjoy face-to-face conversation.
All, without exception, are glad they have received the first vaccination, before returning in 11 weeks’ time.
Time passes swiftly. The conversation is convivial, and the appreciation of thanks, as patients clock the Winchester Rotary bib, are genuinely well meant.
Domino’s have been plying volunteers with pizza which sums up the generosity of spirit within the community.
Just when there is a lull in the flow of vaccinations, the health centre manager strides up. “Excuse me, have you had a vaccination?” she asks.
Somewhat surprised since I’m not due for a jab until April, she says they are keen to get the volunteers vaccinated too.
Waiting at station 3 is Jane. She retired as a local GP three years ago, but has returned to help the Covid clinic.
“Normally I would be walking the dogs or playing tennis on a Friday afternoon,” she reveals.
“It’s great to be here helping.”
The process is simple. Jane asks a few questions while her assistant types the details into a laptop. She explains I will be receiving the Oxford AstraZeneca jab.
The injection is short and sweet.
Jane hands me a card carrying the name and batch of the vaccine, the date it was given, plus a reminder to attend for a second dose during one of my volunteering shifts in April.
Dr Nigel Watson is the clinical lead for the Hampshire and Isle of Wight COVID-19 Vaccination Programme.
He said: “Clinics are going really well with lots of our patients and staff saying how smoothly things have run.
“We’d like to thank everyone for bearing with us as we know how important the vaccine is too many people.
“Whilst the vaccine roll-out is really good news, we know that the virus is still very much with us so we all must do everything we can to protect ourselves and others.”